STEVE MERTZ: Hi. My name is Steve Mertz.
TOPHER DOWNHAM: And I’m Topher Downham.
STEVE MERTZ: And we’re with the City of Boulder open space and mountain parks department. We’re going to tell you a little bit about our agency and what we’ve been through in the last 10 years, and maybe you’ll see why that’s important to you people and the work that you’re doing.
The City of Boulder open space and mountain parks is a relatively small land management agency but we get about 5 million visits a year. Forty years ago, Boulder became the first city in America to tax themselves to purchase open space lands. We currently have 44,000 acres surrounding the city for preservation and recreational purposes.
TOPHER DOWNHAM: About 10 years ago, we decided to try to get our arms around how to build accessible trails and what is an accessible trail. It seems that we’ve kind of been on a parallel track to the Access Board, kind of more like a small test tube of what you’re working on nationally.
We defined what we thought “accessible” meant and adopted a difficulty rating system for our trails. We collaborated with five local agencies and evaluated all of our trails.
Over the years, we have added more trails onto our accessible list, and we published a guidebook in 2000 that shows all of our accessible trails around Boulder and all of the natural sites, too.
And we currently have 16 trails that meet the Access Board’s guidelines and one sensory trail designed for people with low vision.
STEVE MERTZ: We additionally, we have of those trails Topher mentioned, we have 20 miles of trails that can be hiked in a wheelchair. We offer hikes for people to learn how to go hiking in wheelchairs. We have a downloadable version of this guidebook on line, along with Internet mapping an Internet mapping server and accessible trail maps.
This past Saturday, 120 volunteers from volunteers for outdoor Colorado completed a half mile long accessible trail on a mountain just above Boulder. And we have plans in the next year to add three more accessible trails to our list.
Now, we understand the work you’re the guidelines that you people are putting together are for federal agencies, and we’re not the first people to bring this up. But there’s a lot of state, county, and municipal agencies that are desperately waiting for these guidelines to become ratified. Because we have a lot of questions. Currently, within the last year, since the Forest Service and the transportation put out this (indicating), we love this. It’s very easy to read. It’s very detailed. And we hope that when you get done, you put something together like that, because it’s very user friendly for trail building purposes.
In regards to your guidelines, we want to start by saying thanks. This is very wonderful. It’s a very well thought out document. It seems like you’ve covered all the bases and it’s a great job and thanks to you all for your public service.
TOPHER DOWNHAM: So we have three things that we’d like to bring to your attention concerning the questions that you had, and the whole guidelines. The first point we want to bring up is pertaining to Questions 1 and 2 concerning approaches to trail accessibility and the conditions for exception.
When we started working on trail accessibility, we gave a lot of thought to what people may want in our accessible trails, and we came up with some ideas. And then we conducted some fairly extensive public outreach, had we had some different open house meetings with people with disabilities, and interviewed stakeholders, and then we we came up with some differences between what the community wanted and what we had thought they wanted. And we called these desirability factors.
STEVE MERTZ: The best example of this was prior to holding our community open house meetings, we evaluated all the trails on our system and decided which ones would be good candidates to be made accessible. A new trail was in the works that could have easily been made accessible for a couple of miles, and we figured it was a slam dunk. When we checked in with the community groups, we found that there was zero interest in the proposed trail.
“We’ll probably never use it” was the unanimous comment, and one of the nicer comments, actually. Our department was building it mostly as a connector for trail and equestrian or sorry, for equestrian and mountain bike use, and it was in a place that was often very hot, windy, and certainly not as beautiful as most anywhere else around Boulder.
We were looking at gaining a couple miles of accessible trail as low hanging fruit. The desirability factors that the community was telling us they wanted were things like shade, points of interest, wildlife viewing, access to water, forested areas, more shade, and destinations that are typical of the beauty that Boulder to offer.
TOPHER DOWNHAM: So we now look at the desirability factors when determining whether a trail should be made accessible or not. We’d rather direct our funds and energies to trails that will be used by people with disabilities rather than trails that will be of less interest, never used.
And every every forest, park, monument, knows what people want to see when they come to visit.
So by incorporating some sort of desirability factors into the conditions for exceptions, this document could steer managers towards providing accessible trails to these meaningful destinations rather than just providing easy trails to construct. It’s easy to visualize trails being built to the new standards on flat, boring, uninteresting parts of otherwise beautiful places, just to meet a percentage quota. And I know we’d all hate to see that.
STEVE MERTZ: We’d also like to address Section T104, in definitions. Specifically the sentence: “These guidelines are not accessible to trails primarily designed and constructed for recreational use by equestrians, mountain bikes,” et cetera, “even if pedestrians occasionally use the same trail.”
In Oregon, I worked for the Forest Service as a firefighter, but we would build trails during the if there were no fires, and I’ve worked with other local agencies. The default standard for building trails for many, many years was the U.S. Forest Service horse trail standards. Many of my favorite trails are built to horse standards, though I rarely ride a horse or even see a horse on these trails.
We’d hate to see this section of the document become a convenient semantic excuse for uninterested or recalcitrant trail builders to these new standards, and I’ve heard this echoed by other speakers today, that perhaps offering more clarification on this matter would help.
TOPHER DOWNHAM: The third point that we’d like to bring up is liability concerns. We talked to several trail builders and agencies over the past several years from all around the country, and one thing that comes up time and time again is a concern for liability.
It seems that there’s a fear that someone may build a trail to make it accessible, and then weather or overuse or something makes it unusable to people in wheelchairs or, worse, someone actually gets injured on the trail.
The fear is that the agency or the trail builder becomes sued may be sued. Our concern is that some managers may not try to build the trail to Access Board standards due to these fears, so we think it would be great if this were addressed in your document, to put this kind of fear into perspective.
STEVE MERTZ: Once again, we just want to thank you, really a heartfelt thank you to all of you for doing what you’re doing. As you can see, it’s a much needed document that we need to have, and we know that a lot of federal agencies we talk to people all over the country over the years, and even all over the world, who find out that we’re building trails and they want to find out more about them, and what we’re doing and that kind of thing, and we know that a lot of agencies are going to adopt these guidelines as soon as they’re published.
In closing, we’d like to invite you all to Boulder when the guidelines are adopted and we’re going to plan on having a big party. I’m sure we’ll barbecue something, and we’ll give people guided hikes. So thank you very much.
TOPHER DOWNHAM: Thank you.